Welcome to the first step in getting started with gouache painting! I hope you’ll find a lot of helpful information here and in the link I’ll provide at the end…buckle up!
This post is divided into four sections following the video:
- What is gouache painting?
- What supplies are needed, and are they expensive?
- 7 tips that helped me improve with gouache
- More resources to learn (free ones plus a class!)
Tutorial: Getting Started with Gouache Painting
The video covers the content, but you’ll find the information written out below with photos – because the video is a bit of a firehose of info. LOL!
Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!
What is gouache?
In a word, it’s opaque watercolor! Not just watercolor with an opaque or semi-opaque rating on the tube, but it’s thicker, creamier paint. For comparison, the lighthouse photo below shows how opaque it is on top of a watercolor painting; while some details can look good, lots of times gouache looks like a sticker because of its flat, matte appearance. The apples paintings show a matte gouache look vs the shiny appearance of an acrylic painting that also shows all the brushstrokes.
Styles of gouache painting
There are, of course, hundreds of ways to paint with any medium, but I find a lot fall into 2 main categories: poster or posterized, where the shapes in the picture are very graphical and simplified, and the other is more illustrative and expressive. The flowers below are painted on a color swatch from a local paint store, and the kitten is painted on a small canvas. These are not paper, but accept gouache once the first paint that goes on is nice and thick; watery pigment will just float weirdly on the surface.
What supplies are needed?
The one expensive item is, of course the gouache itself. Single 15 ml tubes can run from around $11-$15 each. However – if you learn to mix colors yourself, you can get away with buying a lot less paint! I can make two good recommendations:
- The color collection in the Winsor and Newton Gouache set; it has 10 colors, including a warm and cool yellow, red, and blue, plus a green, yellow ochre, black, and white. It runs around $60-$65 – the drawback to WN is that the paint does dry out quicker in the palette than I’d hope, and they’re 14ml tubes instead of 15. However you can add water and stir paint, so getting it back to smooth isn’t all that hard; just put small amounts into your palette rather than filling it completely, so you have less paint to mess around with reconstituting.
- Daniel Smith gouache is higher quality; I’ve had it in a palette for about 9 months and only periodically need to address any paints getting thicker. However, they’re nearly twice the cost as WN. (as I always say, we get what we pay for). I created a list of nearly-same colors as the WN set from the DS for the new class mentioned later in this post:
–Hansa Yellow Medium
–Hansa Yellow Deep
–Quinacridone Magenta (the closest to a cool red, though it’s more violet)
–Cobalt (this color is neither warm nor cool, and is relarively close to Ultramarine)
–Permanent Green Light (WN uses Medium, but the Light is just fine)
PALETTE AND MIXING TILE
If you’d like to try a palette, I can highly recommend the Joybest airtight palette – but you can also just squeeze out a little paint as needed onto a mixing tile, and keep your paint tubes in a basket on your desk! I use a simple tile from the hardware store to mix colors on.
Here’s some good news: you don’t need pricey brushes! I did buy myself a Jack Richeson set, but honestly, when I started I just grabbed cheapo brushes from the drawer of materials I use with kiddos. Some had bristles falling out, etc, but it convinced me that you don’t need fancy ones. The set I have comes with a bunch of brush sizes and a case – flat 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, round 2 4 6 8 .
7 tips that helped me improve with gouache
I found YT tutorials that were 8x10s and started out trying that but, oh man, did I have a lot of fails. And though I had received my first gouache as a gift from Daniel Smith (I’m an ambassador so occasionally receive product), I found myself going out to purchase more quickly, because I was blasting through it with all my circular file paintings.
But then I decided to just do postcards. A month’s worth, just to keep myself painting daily. And while I didn’t always succeed, and I was very very slow due to not knowing what I was doing, it was much better and I didn’t go through paint as fast as my first batch of paintings.
This little bee is painted in the 3″ x 3″ sketchbook that’s used in the class that you’ll see listed at the end of this post. He’s so cute!
2. LEARN THE VARIOUS CONSISTENCIES
This was a biggie – I started off using gouache in a similar way as I used watercolor. Wrong! I didn’t even know how thick the paint should look on my mixing palette. Yeesh. I still struggle with it because my brain is watercolor-wired, but I’m getting better if I can just think a tiny bit and dab my brush off on a towel!
3. MAKE A PLAN: VALUE AND ORDER
I’ve had many a painting go south because I didn’t think through what would make sense. I’d heard people say dark to light, but found that sometimes it just didn’t make sense to do it that way. Then I heard people say back-to-front, and that tends to make more sense sometimes, but not always. So I find that each painting needs a bit of thinking and planning – so I look for which values I want to pop on the top, and where the darks within that portion of the subject might lie, and start to develop a plan.
4. DON’T UNDERPAINT LIGHT AREAS
I was under a giant misconception; maybe it’s because I’m not great at mixing thick creamy paint. But I thought I should be able to paint ANYTHING on top of another layer. After all that’s what opacity means right?
Only sort of.
I found that if a large section of the painting was to be a light color, then it was much better to just keep the background color out of it entirely.
5. DON’T GET SWATCH HAPPY
In watercolor, we make tons of swatch charts. Mixing charts with 10 variations on a mix. 24×24 boxes on big papers…..I’m not sure how many of us actually refer to them later, I know I rarely do!
But in gouache if you create that many charts, you’re using up so much gouache. Using this medium requires a lot more paint than we’re used to in watercolor – so be selective in the kinds of charts to create. I recommend a tint and shade chart for your palette of colors, and you can see a video about how to make it in the class listed below.
6. DON’T ADD SO MUCH WATER
This is related to my previous struggles – being used to watercolor, it’s hard to think about how much water NOT to add, whereas when watercoloring I’m always pushing myself to use MORE so the paint flows.
When bringing water to a mixing palette, start the puddle next to the blob of paint, not ON the blob – or else you can turn a whole blob into a puddle in the matter of 2 seconds, and getting it back to creamy is going to need a lot more paint to thicken it up.
Also – bringing your brush back and forth from grabbing paint from the palette, rinsing it, then getting more paint from the palette…that process just keeps bringing more water to the mixing area, and expelling tons of pigment into the water. Both waste paint! Instead, use a palette knife to grab paint to put onto your mixing surface. Then your brush doesn’t have to do all the work.
7. PRESERVE YOUR GOUACHE PAINTINGS
I’ve been buying and trying products for months, and found some that seemed to work at first but after a while they lost their mojo – dangit! But I’ve been happy with Dorlands Wax Medium; it’s been standing up to testing for a few months now, so I’m confident in making the recommendation. See a video about how to apply it in the class listed below.
Gouache Jumpstart Class + free resources
Announcing a new Gouache Jumpstart Level 1 Class! Yes, I finally got around to creating this one, and the class is available. You can find FIVE more gouache videos in the free Preclass lesson, so, yeah, go check those out. If you find it all helpful I’d love it if you took the class, it’ll be tons of fun!
What gouache questions remain?
I hope this was pretty comprehensive…did I leave something out? Leave a comment!
I’ll be posting a stamping video with gouache on Friday, so stay tuned for that discussion too.
Winsor and Newton Intro Gouache Set 10 colors: • Blick • Amazon
OR Daniel Smith Gouache
- PALETTE: Joybest airtight palette
- BRUSHES: Jack Richeson travel brush set for gouache • Blick • Amazon
Sketchbook or class, 3″x3″
Sketchbooks, larger: Pentalic
Paper Pad Canson XL: 9×12 BLICK • AMZ
- GOUACHE PROTECTION:
Dorlands Wax Medium:
4oz • Blick • Amazon
OR 16oz Blick • Amazon